Viktor Klimov was born in 1923 in Roslavl in the Smolensk region. He still lives in his native city. Before World War II, he entered the Kuibyshev Energy Technical School. He dreamed of becoming an electrician and of lighting up houses. It was the most peaceful and popular profession of that time that brought joy and light to people.
Planes were Assembled in the First Place, Then the Walls of Workshops
Nobody knows what the life of that boy would have been in the future, but all plans were disrupted by the war. Together with his peers, Viktor Klimov got to the Bezymyanka railway station where aircraft plants were located. They were evacuated from the occupied territories. In fact, there were no factories in a strict sense – just workshops in the open air. Klimov recalls that machines were immediately installed, and fittings were carved out and assembled.
“There was no time to build workshops,” recalls Klimov. “The trains with equipment continued coming. The front needed Ilyushin-2 fighter planes. So, we assembled them right on the streets and built walls of the workshops later.”
Earth Seemed to fall Apart
In August 1942, Klimov was called up for military service. He was sent to the 61st Bogunsky regiment, which was part of the 45th Division named after the Bolshevik commander Shchors. Almost immediately after their unit was brought up to strength, it was deployed to Stalingrad.
Klimov becomes silent for a while, and then he quietly and slowly utters the terrible words:
“After the first battle... one section was left out of the whole platoon. The front line was longer than 100 km. Our unit controlled a 4-kilometer section. There were elite German troops. A line of their columns went into the attack: tall men with sleeves rolled up, best of the best...”
Those elitist troops were at war against the untrained boys, who had had but a brief crash course in fighting. As Klimov recalls, everything around was burning. There were up to 900 main guns per kilometer.
“Sometimes it seemed like the earth was falling apart,” he says. “Everything was rumbling, brattling and shaking.”
Klimov keeps silent again. It is noticeable how painful these memories are for him. It was near Stalingrad where he faced death for the first time and looked into stony eyes of his dead comrade-in-arms who had fought side by side with him just a minute before... And now everything is flashing before his eyes again as in a film: the explosions are very close, maimed fellow soldiers and the soil that is purple with blood...
Not Everybody Stood Up to It -- There Were Self-Wounds
“The Germans came very close to us. We were only from 60 to 70 meters apart. They were throwing grenades at us and... leaflets urging us to surrender. It was very hard. There were those who were unable to stand up to it and shot themselves to get to the hospital and get out of there. These were known as “self-inflicted wounds,” Klimov keeps silent for a while, lowers his eyes and sighs... A few minutes later, he continues his story.
“Secret agents were examining the wounded soldiers very carefully. If there was a suspicion that a soldier had wounded himself, there was only one decision – to execute him by firing squad. I remember that there was one guy shot in the leg. We just got American boots of good quality. The leg was wounded, but the boot was intact... I guess the guy thought to spare the boots and to wear them after discharging from the hospital. However, it didn't happen,” adds Klimov. “It was tough, but at that time, probably, it was impossible to do things differently. The enemy was strong and had to be stopped by all means, stopped and turned back.”
First German Killed and First Wound
It was during these hard battles that Klimov killed his first German.
“When the Germans were attacking with their full force, I shot three times, as we were taught,” recalls Viktor Ivanovich. “But he continued moving forward. Then I changed direction a little bit, and he fell. At that time, I myself received the first wound.”
The wounded were loaded on boats to be ferried to the other bank of the Volga, but the Germans mined the river and fired on it. Sometimes less than a half of 400 people would get to the opposite shore. When a boat was hit, whoever could swim would make a try. The water in the Volga was red with blood...
Klimov was sent to the small township of Krasny Kut, but the hospital there was overcrowded. Therefore, doctor offered those people who could walk to get to the Loginovka village, where another field hospital was deployed. Klimov walked for more than 7 km more with other wounded soldiers before he was admitted to the hospital.
And Then Back to the Front...
He got medical treatment and returned to the frontline. There he was enrolled to the 156th Separate Anti-Tank Battalion named “Chervonnaya Ukraine.” In the battles for Kyiv he was wounded again -- a grenade fragment hit the bridge of his nose, and the second one slightly scratched his head.
“There was blood all around, and I couldn't see anything,” says Klimov. “I touched it – a shell fragment was sticking out. I pulled it out from myself, and then I squeezed the wound with my hand.”
There is a twinkle of a teenage daredevil in his eyes. He addresses me asking: “I am 97 now, and there are no wrinkles on my forehead, aren’t they?”
Only after his words, I noticed that there are really no wrinkles on his forehead. Klimov emanates optimism. When looking at him, you would never say that he is in his nineties.
He Fought With a German Sniper Rifle in the Hands
After a pause, Viktor recalls that in one of the battles he noticed a sniper's rifle of a dead German soldier. He picked it up and then went on “hunting” the Germans with their own weapon. However, on November 3, Klimov was wounded. As he confesses, this was his own fault. He fired twice from the same spot. The German noticed him but Klimov managed to duck. The wound turned out to be serious.
So, on November 6, Kiev was liberated without him because he once again got to the hospital.
“We Reached Germany! We Made it!”
Klimov returned to the front after his treatment and brief training at the Ryazan Tank School. Right then, he was appointed commander of an armored vehicle. By that time the positions of mechanical engineer and commander were combined. As part of that unit Klimov participated in a lot of battles, reached Germany and received the Order of the Red Star for seizing a German officer.
“As we made it to Oder, for the first time, I saw a huge shield with a swastika and an eagle. In the first moment, I shuddered. The only thought was in my mind: “We reached Germany! We've made it!!!”
It was on the German territory where Klimov was very badly wounded. With numerous wounds and in burning clothes, he had great difficulty to get to the nearby woodland. There he was picked up by friendly troops. One of the officers was seriously wounded in that battle, and an airplane was sent for him. Klimov was lucky that he was evacuated together with the officer. The hospital personnel wanted to amputate his leg, but he shouted out with his last strength: “Don't cut off my leg! Save it!”
The doctor took a risk and left his leg. Then Klimov lived through the ordeal, although he was riddled with bullets and had several extremely severe wounds.
In the end, he told me a few words: “If someone says he was in the infantry and was not wounded during the war, do not believe him. This is impossible. It often happens that a bullet catches on in the first battle, or after a few fights. However, it will catch on some day anyway, and then it depends on how lucky you are -- it might be slight, bad or mortal.”
After coming back from the front, Klimov started working at the Rosa Luxemburg Sewing Cooperative named after Rosa Luxemburg. He worked as a machine setter.
Klimov detested falseness and never kowtowed to his superiors. He pulled no punches and was always brutally honest. And now he is still the same person. He married and raised the daughter Valentina and the son Victor with his wife. He has also two adult grandsons, Leonid and Eugene, and three great-grandsons Misha, Pasha and Masha.
Klimov still drives a car and goes to the forest to pick up mushrooms. He lives in his house and visits his daughter for lunch.
Life goes on. But it sets strict demands for us, the descendants of those who won the Victory. We are to be worthy of our fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers.